From Human Resources to Human Rights: discovering myself in India
At a young age, people can roughly be divided into 2 categories, with all that stands in-between: those who don’t have a clear idea of where they are going and those who think they have all figured out. My name is Alex and I have been consistently bouncing from one extreme to the other for years. That is until what happened two years ago.
After high school I had only one certainty: I loved law, history and social sciences; passions well known to my friends who I constantly bored with my ramblings, last but not least my diploma thesis on Weber and bureaucracy. The fil rouge these disciplines had in common that absolutely bewitched me was the concept of groups. I found borderline magical how the best and the worst in human history had been carried out by and conceived inside masses of strangers, united by forces invisible to the naked eye and impervious to traditional scientific methods. To me, the most fascinating (and scary) quality of groups is the ability to nudge new collective identities, to the point of making individuals unrecognizable. It is no surprise then that I pursued International Sciences and Diplomacy as my bachelor degree. I wanted to study the causes of genocides, wars and rebellions; the power of the media, organizations and their leaders; the rise and fall of nations.
Did I have the slightest hint of a professional development to channel these passions through? Absolutely not. To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about it that much. Not really a surprising plot twist coming from a guy whose plan B was enrolling to a philosophy program. In any case, I passed the admission test, packed my things and moved to my new apartment. As the willing and motivated freshman that I was, I frantically subscribed to every extracurricular activity I could lay my eyes upon. One of them was an organization that would have changed my life forever: AIESEC. Now, I could speak about my 2 years there for an entire book worth of pages, but please be satisfied with me saying that whatever good I will manage to accomplish in my lifetime has its roots in that organization and the amazing people I worked with, people I still have the luck to call friends. Among the many gifts AIESEC gave me there is my first clear vision of a professional path, since that is the place where I fell in love with Human Resources (HR). Because of my background, I saw that profession has an engine of how groups and organizations are assembled. In my eyes, it was the missing link between humanity and business, between people as mere gears in a productivity mechanism and people as an end in themselves. It was love at first sight and I was so motivated that, one step at a time, I climbed the hierarchy until I became national HR team leader.
At this point, I had my eyes on the prize: I would land a job inside a big company and make my name there. I believed in my ideas, I just needed a chance. After many projects and assignments, it finally happened: I had been accepted as an HR manager apprentice inside an Indian IT start-up in Gurugram, near New Delhi. I would be lying if I said my eyes were not sparkling and I felt like one of the “mad men” of the 1950s. India surpassed all my expectations: a country of incredible beauty and spirituality, a true bedrock of civilization, older than Greece and ripe with wisdom. There, I received the warmest acts of humanity of my life when I needed it the most, memories who deserve their own story at a different time. However, no rose is without its thorns, and nothing could have prepared me, not even my previous experiences abroad, my volunteering and my jobs, to what it meant to take that kind of leap. The level of poverty, suffering and despair was making clear that Europe was far behind me. I still see clearly in my mind two children banging their fists in desperation against the car windows in the middle of the highway, while a topless woman was covering her newborn with her dusty clothes just behind them. They reached the window of my Uber too, engraining their faces in my head forever. In the meantime, I spent my days sipping long drinks in all-glass buildings and going to fancy company parties. I started to feel unnerved by the debauchery of it all.
The final blow came from the very job I loved. I found myself in the harsh reality of an industry where the majority of decision-makers were not interested in my ideas, and they outright called me foolish, immature and idealistic. Furthermore, I interviewed countless candidates, even very young ones with already family and children to take care of, and heard their stories of struggle in a system that encouraged inhumane competition and harsh business practices. I realized that it was not a simple matter of bad leadership, or uninterested venture capitalists and managers void of empathy. The very same candidates did not wish for my methods, they just wanted a job, some money, a way to survive and feed their families irrespective of how they could achieve it. I have witnessed lies, scams and unethical behaviors from candidates almost every day, brought by necessity and resignation. I remember one of them was an informatic engineer with a young wife. Despite an entire life dedicated to study and work, I saw his crushing despair in being able to offer her wife only a room in the slums that could barely be considered decent housing. If I had to choose a single moment as the cause of my future choices, it would probably be what I learned from two teenagers working as housekeepers at the office. I was concerned about them always going to have lunchbreak at a different table and I would have loved for them to join us. I was told they did that because they did not feel comfortable in sharing the table with us, because of the social class gap (and probably the remnants of the caste system). I felt stupid and powerless for believing I could have made a difference with a corporate job in front of people so affected by unfairness and injustice to the point of having internalized it. For the first time, I felt an existential sadness that made me question if there was a point in doing anything at all. Eventually, I resigned.
I came back to Italy and took a student job as a tour guide in Venice while I waited for the next chapter of my life. I would have stuck with the same two letters that accompanied me this far, HR, only this time they would bear a new meaning: Human Rights. I committed to leave the private sector behind, at least for the time being, and pursue a different direction. It was a hard choice and, ironically, I am back to square 1, to not knowing what I will do or where I will be. This change of route made me fully embrace the deep reasons that brought me to Human Resources in the first place: I am the guy who loves law, history and social sciences; I am also the guy whose eyes water when people beg for money at the side of the street or when young people implore to get out of unemployment, despite having 3 degrees. I may have signed up for an uncomfortable journey, but, as usual, I have one certainty: I have never felt happier and more fulfilled by what I am studying and what opportunities it holds for me in the future.
Written by Alex Frattin
Edited by Giulia Rosina
Picture courtesy of AIESEC India
Alex Frattin is a 2nd year HRG student with a strong interest for surveillance capitalism, business and environmental issues. His dream is to become a respected academic while also acting on the field to concretely report about, monitor and defend those in need. Follow Alex on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alex-frattin-b59b91164/
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